On Monday, the Trump administration announced a new rule that will bar many poor immigrants from receiving green cards, specifically because they are or are likely to be deemed “public charges”—i.e., receive benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid—on the country. The rule will go into effect in October.
The new rule, to be published to the Federal Register on Wednesday, “prescribes” how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will determine whether a green card applicant can be approved depending upon that person being “likely at any time to become a public charge.”
Arbitrary terms within the Immigration and Nationality Act such as “public charge” and “public benefit” are defined in the new rule. The rule introduces “public charge bonds” that immigrants can pay if USCIS determines that they are likely to become a public charge, to prove that they won’t.
Under the new rule, public benefits include cash benefits for income maintenance, food stamps, most forms of Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, Section 8 rental assistance, and other forms of subsidized housing. Benefits don’t include programs that assist pregnant people or children.
Applicants are determined to be a “public charge” if they receive one or more public benefits for more than 12 aggregated months within a 36-month period. The new rule uses the example of two benefits being used in one month as counting for two months of the 12-month total.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, USCIS acting director Ken Cuccinelli—a man who once referred to caravans of migrants as invaders—said that the changes under the new rule wouldn’t affect people seeking asylum or refugee status.
Cuccinelli also said that public charge risks would only be considered for green card applicants and other immigrants seeking a change in status once the rule goes into effect. However, Politico reported last week that green card denials on the basis of public charge risks had spiked during the Trump administration. The denials have heavily affected poor Mexicans, whereas Canadians have been barely touched by the public charge regulations.
“As President Trump delivers on his promise to uphold the rule of law, this administration is promoting our shared history and encouraging the core values needed to make the American dream a reality,” Cuccinelli said at the press conference.
It’s more likely, knowing what we know, that being tagged as a “public charge” will get in the way of the dreams of so many more people.